Holiday Decoration Fun in Korea and New Zealand

Holidays Seoul Christmas trees lighted

From a decoration standpoint, Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I adore the gorgeous lights that adorn the cities. It makes everything so beautiful. I had time to enjoy holiday decorations in Seoul before I went to New Zealand for the actual holidays. One evening was spent touring the downtown area and got quite an eyeful. Many parts of the city, particularly major department stores, had a wide variety of holiday decorations and illuminations, plus there were the Christmas street stores at local markets, like Namdaemun.

Holidays Seoul Christmas market

Holidays Seoul Christmas tree closeup

The department stores were bright with exterior illumination and both real and fake trees were lit up.

Holidays Seoul Christmas tree lights

Holidays Seoul Shinsegae lights

The nearby Hilton Hotel also had plenty of beautiful interior decorations of trees and one of the biggest holiday train sets I’ve seen.

Holidays Seoul Hilton Hotel Christmas tree

Holidays Seoul Hilton Christmas train 2

Holidays Seoul Hilton Christmas train 1

I got to New Zealand a little over a week before Christmas. While I was out on the hiking trail for actual Christmas day, the decorations were still up for everyone to enjoy later in the month.

Holidays Auckland department store decorations

Holidays Christchurch Re Start mall

The storefront decorations at the Christchurch department store, Ballantynes, were particularly interesting. It was like a cross between Candyland and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory. They were kind of odd in a pleasing way. It was nice to see decorations that were sort of fantasical, with a hint of creepy, instead of gooey sweet decorations.

Holidays Christchurch Ballantynes 4

Holidays Christchurch Ballantynes 3

Holidays Christchurch Ballantynes 2

Holidays Christchurch Ballantynes 1

I spent New Year’s Eve in Christchurch. I had hoped to do it in Queenstown, because I heard their NYE celebrations were insane (though some of that insanity was mitigated by the ban on alcohol in public places), but my vacation schedule didn’t really work out that way. I arrived back in Christchurch from Arthur’s Pass in the early evening and enjoyed my final meal of 2013 at a local Korean restaurant (though the Korean food seemed a bit New Zealandized).

Holidays Christchurch NYE fireworks 3

Holidays Christchurch NYE fireworks 2

Holidays Christchurch NYE fireworks 1

If you want to have a crazy New Years celebration, Christchurch isn’t the best place to do it. The public celebration in Hanley Park was specifically designated alcohol free, and there was a city-wide liquor ban on walking around with booze outside. So I hung out in my hostel room enjoying my bottle of sparkling wine until shortly before midnight. I didn’t really care to sit in a park listening to bands I didn’t know. But I was interested in the fireworks display (fireworks pretty!), so I showed up shortly before midnight. Fireworks went off, people scattered and I went back to my hostel. It was very sedate NYE, and once again, it was a NYE on my own in a foreign country.

Christchurch Street Art

Christchurch street art-9

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t often pay attention to street art when I visit cities. It’s not that I have an aversion to it or anything; it’s just that I don’t notice it very often.

Christchurch street art-1

But for some reason it stood out for me very much when I visited Christchurch. It’s not that I think that Christchurch is more of a street art haven than places like New York City or London. Maybe because Christchurch is so small that it was all easy to notice. Maybe my eyes were just more open to noticing it all. Maybe it is because wild, colorful street art is such a contrast to Christchurch’s staid, conservative reputation.

Christchurch street art-2

In any case, I very much enjoyed looking at all the art that provided color and interest to the city.

Christchurch street art-7

Christchurch street art-5

Some of the art was more of deliberate, planned outdoor art installations.

Christchurch street art-11

These installations were particularly prominent around Cathedral Square, which reopened in June 2013 and is kind of of the hub of Christchurch’s regeneration. The installations were titled “A Vast, Changing Canvas” and its purpose was to show that “in the city’s altered centre, art, storytelling and the realm of the imagination claim a vital role. Artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes have unleashed colour, pattern and energy to communicate an active sense of possibility.”

Christchurch street art-4

All the street art in Christchurch (both the deliberate and more spontaneous) really did serve to brighten up the city and showcase the possibility of art.

Christchurch street art-6

Christchurch in Transition-A Photo Essay

Christchurch in transition-3

I was well aware of the devastation wrought upon Christchurch from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. It was talked about extensively in my guide book, and my mother visited there nine months prior and she showed me some of the pictures.

Christchurch in transition-10

So I can’t say I was shocked at what I saw, but it was still strange to see that level of damage to a developed, Western city that is not an active combat zone.

Christchurch in transition-14

So many buildings have been demolished already, leaving a barren empty lot in its place. But many more buildings still stand condemned and abandoned.

Christchurch in transition-15

Christchurch in transition-9

Many of the businesses have relocated either to the suburbs or to transition locations. However, that doesn’t mean that Christchurch is down and out. Most of the damage was confined to the city center, but plenty other parts of the city are perfectly fine.

Christchurch in transition-8

And even in the damaged center, Christchurch is making a recovery and has established transition projects. A good example is the Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral. In the earthquake, the Christchurch Cathedral was irreparably damaged, and even though it still stands, it is blocked off and it is estimated that it will take 10-15 years to repair. But Cathedral Square was reopened in June 2013, so it is possible to get closer to the Cathedral.

Christchurch in transition-16

Christchurch in transition-17

Christchurch in transition-7

In its place, the Cardboard Cathedral was constructed as a transitional place of worship for Christchurch residents. It was constructed internally with 98 huge cardboard tubes, and even though it is still considered transitional in concept, it is estimated that it could last for 50 years. The Cardboard Cathedral’s references some of the Christchurch Cathedral in design structure, but it has its own style as well. Since it is considered a temporary structure (in theory anyway), the interior is pretty spare, but that actually sort of enhances the atmosphere.

Christchurch in transition-5

Christchurch in transition-4

Another transitional structure that is reinvigorating the city center is the Re: Start mall. It is set up a few blocks from the worst of the earthquake damage, and many of the businesses (around 51 retailers in total, including Ballantynes- Christchurch’s beloved department store) destroyed from the earthquake relocated there. The stores are set up in brightly painted shipping containers and give off a festive, urban, open-air shopping environment.

Christchurch in transition-2

Christchurch in transition-1

Unfortunately the beautiful, Victorian Gothic Arts Centre was pretty severely damaged, so I couldn’t visit it, but I could see what it probably looked like at its peak.

Christchurch in transition-12

Christchurch in transition-13

Christchurch is definitely a city in transition at the moment, but even among the damage, the city is slowly rebuilding itself to its former grandeur.

Coastal Pacific Train Journey- Picton to Christchurch

Coastal Pacific Train-15

This particular day was the first, and one of the only, vacation days I didn’t feel compelled to get up early. I didn’t have any place to be until 1300, so I walked around Picton, browsed in the shops, and had a leisurely lunch.

Coastal Pacific Train-1

After lunch it was time to catch my train from Picton to Christchurch. One train a day takes that route, and the journey typically takes over five hours,  whereas a plane ride takes about an hour. So why choose the train? In truth, at the time I seriously looked at transport options, the train was cheaper than a plane. Plus I factored in the two hour bus ride to the Nelson airport. I wasn’t in a hurry to get to Christchurch, and didn’t have a jam-packed itinerary in Christchurch.

Coastal Pacific Train-2

I read many good things about the Coastal Pacific train ride, so I decided to slow my vacation pace down and enjoy the opportunity  to see beautiful New Zealand scenery I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see. The train set a very leisurely pace (seriously the bus or car would have been faster), but rolled through a wide variety of landscapes. I had a perfect window seat on the east side of the train to see the coastline and the inland plains.

Coastal Pacific Train-3

The hills south of Picton were lush vineyards, rolling fields and hills of gold that transitioned to lush, green native forest and hills. A good portion of the ride skirted the east coast and I was treated to views of lots of sheep and cows.

Coastal Pacific Train-8

We passed Lake Grassmere, where the majority of New Zealand’s salt is produced. Many of the salt ponds were pink due to the large numbers of green algae that turns to pink in the presence of a high salt concentration.

Coastal Pacific Train-5

Coastal Pacific Train-4

As we moved further south, the gentle rolling waves of the ocean changed to fierce crashing breakers set among dark beaches, hills and rain clouds.

Coastal Pacific Train-6

Coastal Pacific Train-7

Many parts of the coastline reminded me of Iceland, which isn’t surprising since a good chunk of New Zealand reminded me of Iceland.

Coastal Pacific Train-9

Coastal Pacific Train-10

Coastal Pacific Train-12

The farther south we traveled through Canterbury, the plains started to remind me of the ones I’ve seen in the Scottish Highlands. The sky and clouds became grayer and mistier, with spots of rain as well. It practically was full on storming by the time we got close to Christchurch.

Coastal Pacific Train-11

Coastal Pacific Train-12

Sometimes I was able to capture the beauty with my camera, and other times I just let it float by and took it all in for the memories.

Coastal Pacific Train-13

If you like beautiful scenery, and don’t mind a very scenic journey, by all means take the time for the Coastal Pacific train ride if you are heading between Picton and Christchurch.

Coastal Pacific Train-14